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Mold Abatement in the Basement


Mold can be serious business, but I think that the hysteria about it enters the realm of being big business. Mold education is always a more effective first step than panic. Because the house we bought has some moisture issues, I looked into educating myself about mold and moisture problems and found some excellent resources that helped me feel very good about managing things in our new place.

First, I read A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home, a PDF from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Then I took an online mini-course: Introduction to Mold and Mold Remediation for Environmental and Public Health Professionals from the EPA. I was able to complete all 9 chapters and all of the tests in one night. (This course is for general education, and is not a certification.) The EPA also has this great chart for cleaning. Home Depot and others sell mold kits, but proceed with caution. Mere traces of mold spores are expected; mold is all around us outside. Indoor mold growth (beyond a small, normal amount like in the fridge or bathroom) is really the problem.

Many people think that bleach is the default mold cleaner, but this is not correct. While bleach is an effective mold killer on non-porous surfaces, it is not effective on porous surfaces. In other words, it will kill mold on a tile floor, but unless your grout is sealed that makes part of your floor porous. Drywall is also porous. I don’t think bleach is best for anything ever so I wouldn’t even consider it for non-porous surfaces. Hubby uses it to clean his home brewing supplies and won’t change his ways, but I personally don’t ever use it. Here is some more info on bleach & mold and why bleach is not the best choice.

So, with bleach out as an option, what is left? Here are the steps that we took:

  1. Find the cause of the moisture and abate it You will just have to keep repeating the following steps if you don’t take care of the problem. Our problems were: ineffective gutters dumping water on the foundation of the house, an against-code plumbing system creating huge amounts of moisture, and previous owners heating the basement via dryer venting, which is moist heat.
  2. Get your gear on Use the EPA’s cleaning chart (linked above) to assess the gear that you need. For our level of mold I wore rubber gloves, a mask, and glasses. I also elected to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt that would be washed right away.
  3. Give a topical cleaning The vinegar spray I’ve mentioned in the past is good for light mildew (like in the bathroom). So first we sprayed and wiped the walls with that: Scented Vinegar Spray: 1t borax, 1T shaved dry castile soap, 1/8c vinegar, 2c hot water, 5-10 drops of essential oils (Green Clean p.136). I suggest making half of the oil drops Tea Tree Oil since it has natural antiseptic properties.
  4. Kill the mold and clean topically again I made blend of hot water (1/2 gal), vinegar (1/2 gal), and borax (1 cup)* and wiped that on the wall with a sponge and let it sit for 30 minutes. Don’t be afraid to get things really wet (provided it is warm and dry enough in the room for it to dry within several hours.) Then I reapplied and waited for another 30 minutes. Then I wiped one last time with just hot water, really scrubbing this last time. I used a wet/dry shop vacuum to dry up floor. *I made smaller batches that that, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve provided the recipe in a 1 gallon quantity. I used my green cleaning books along with this site to devise that solution and timeline.
  5. Seal the wall and cover the stains Mold can stain. Even if you’ve removed and killed the mold, you may still have staining. So, it is time to cover that up and seal the wall. We used this primer-sealer.

    About primer: zero VOC primers are easy to find, zero VOC primer-sealers are not. Zinsser makes a zero VOC primer-sealer option, but it is not available in my area, so we went with the conventional kind that I linked to. Zinnser’s conventional latex primer-sealer actually is low VOC, they just don’t label themselves as such. (Most latex paints are low VOC but are not labeled as such. Read this to learn more about what qualifies as low VOC and then check the MSDS sheet for your favorite paint. Beware, however, of oil-based paints labeled as low VOC. A low VOC oil-based paint can have about three times the amount of VOCs as a conventional latex paint. I learned that the hard way. We bought 5 gallons of oil-based, low VOC Kilz primer-sealer. After using it for a weekend and it stinking up the place, we switched to the Zinsser and sold the Kilz on Craiglist. I can’t believe I made that mistake and got hoodwinked into using something because of the label instead of reading the MSDS.

The step I didn’t mention, because we didn’t do it, is removal. Also wearing the proper protective gear, removing pieces of flooring, drywall, etc. is certainly an option—and the best option in some cases. We looked at one house and the basement had black, moldy slime that had grown up from the floors, onto the walls, and up as high as the light switches. That was not the house for us! That house needed every single thing removed from the basement.

We are at about 3 months out and none of the mildew has returned! On to the pictures…



Before–Large Room in Basement
Mildew is primarily from the gutters not working and thus water collecting near the house. Plus we’ve got general filth and ickiness down there. In these pictures, brownish spots are filth, blackish spots are mold. The room has much more grime that it does mold. But, it still has to be dealt with.


After Mold Remediation
Walls: after steps described above. Floor: cleaned with Murphy’s Oil Soap and my mother-in-law’s amazing floor electric scrubber. The goal was to get it clean enough for the movers to put down boxes. At some point, all of the flooring in the basement will be replaced. I would like to do it soon, but we have bigger priorities and an area rug can help cover it up.


Before–Other side of the big room in the basement (leads to the second kitchen which is a scary place that we have only done demo work in)


After Mold Remediation
(The stairs are very ugly because of chipped paint. I just brought home floor paint samples to decide on for painting them. Yay!)


Before: Other view of the big room and the craft closet


Before: Close up of the craft closet. This is the worst mold in the house. We’d seen much, much worse in other houses so we weren’t daunted by this. But, it is certainly was enough to indicate a water problem and enough to warrant careful abatement. The mold here is from toilet leak in the bathroom on other side of wall that went on for so long and was extreme that the moisture rotted the bathroom subflooring and rusted everything metal nearby. Someday I’ll share those scary pictures.


Craft closet after mold remediation (including priming)


Unpacking in the craft closet


Unpacking in the big room. The basement is not heated, so we haven’t done much down there but unpack some things and make sure that everything is up on blocks and nothing touches the walls until we make it through a few more months with no moisture problems. So far, so good! In theory, we could play video games down there now (that is what it is set up for) but it is too cold.

Come summer, hopefully it will feel refreshing down there and we’ll start some real work.

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About More Green for Less Green

Hi, I’m Pamm. Welcome to my little slice of the web! As a progressive Evangelical female pastor and crunchy homeschooling mom, I’m never quite what anyone expects of me. But, hey, that’s what makes blogging interesting, right? Join me as I try to wholeheartedly parent my three little boys, slowly fix up the trashed foreclosure we bought in 2009, and live simply.

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • pugsnotdrugs February 13, 2010, 8:48 pm

    I am passing along the Happy 101 Award to you, you can check it out here: http://pugsnotdrugs.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/if-youre-happy-and-you-know-it/. Share 10 things you love and 10 blogs you love and want to pass the award to!

  • P March 10, 2010, 1:12 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • DIY March 15, 2010, 1:13 pm

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • P March 15, 2010, 1:45 pm

    Mold Companies: I do not allow advertising in my comments. I have reposted your comments with the links removed.
    —-
    NYCmoldRemoval said…
    When it comes to removing mold, it can be dangerous; that is why it is advised that your home or business undergo a professional mold removal. California residents, at least most, are unfamiliar with how to properly remove mold.
    March 10, 2010
    —-
    DIY said…
    In extreme situations whereby you might find extensive water damage mold after the cleanup, you might opt to enlist the help of mold removal companies which have professional experts to manage black mold removal on your behalf.
    March 15, 2010
    —-
    My response:
    First commenter, I am so glad that since I am not a California resident my work stands. LOL! This comment cracks me up.

    Dear Readers, obviously consult a professional if–after developing an educated opinion so you at least can be a prudent shopper–you are not comfortable remediating yourself (for example things high on the EPA chart that require special clothing and containment). We saw houses that we wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole in our house shopping journey. This obviously was not one of them.

  • teamdwms May 5, 2010, 3:22 pm

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • P May 5, 2010, 3:28 pm

    Mold Companies: I do not allow advertising in my comments. I have reposted your comments with the links removed.

    teamdwms: Oh, wow! This looks great. You guys did a great job on restoring the area and cleaning everything back up. It is always smart to hire the professionals because if the mold spot isnt completely cleaned up and you paint over it – it will just bubble up the paint and resurface to create more problems in the future.
    (Product link removed)
    —-
    My response:
    We are almost six months out with no problems, so it seems we did the job right!

  • Nyc mold removal August 28, 2010, 5:29 pm

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • david October 29, 2010, 8:15 pm

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • Harold February 7, 2017, 8:15 am

    Thank you for your great blog post. My only question revolves around the use of both vinegar and borax during the same application (i.e., mixing them together). My understanding is that the way borax in particular attacks mold is that due to it’s relatively high pH, it create an inhospitable environment for mold survival and growth. But by adding vinegar (low pH), aren’t you neutralizing the Borax somewhat? Maybe a vinegar cleaning followed by water rinse followed by borax coating might work better? Your thoughts are appreciated!

  • Pamm February 14, 2017, 2:50 am

    Hi Harold, Your logic and idea makes good sense to me! I can’t say that we had problems with how I did it, but your write it so logically and succinctly that if I could do it again that way, I probably would. Great idea, and thanks for sharing! Pamm

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